Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Great Adventure 2017 Part Eleven

Okay, we are heading into our last week and I should finish the narrative in no time!  We left off as we were riding the train to Oxford, which was where we picked up our next car.  Our B&B was in Stow-on-the-Wold, which should have been a fairly quick and easy drive.  Unfortunately, our GPS again conspired against us and by the time we figured out we were indeed going in the wrong direction, we had made our drive into a considerably longer one than it needed to be.  I hesitate to say that we wasted time, since seeing any place in England was interesting, but we did have to do some backtracking to get where we needed to be.

We spent two nights in a very quaint building that was built in 1640.  The narrow circular staircase and slant to the floors bore out this fact.

Imagine carrying two suitcases up these stairs!

We had heard good things about the Cotswolds and were looking forward to seeing some part of the area.  Our first impression was that they are indeed popular with tourists, since even in October we were hard pressed to find a parking spot on the street. The buildings in this area are made from Cotswold stone, which is lighter in color than what we had seen in other parts of the country.  As we drove around, we also saw lots of tree-lined roads, cobblestone walkways, and houses with thatched roofs.

The names of the towns are so charming - Moreton-in-Marsh, Chipping Camden, Cheltenham, Farmington, and of course the Upper and Lower Slaughters.  We walked between these last two towns and, as Rick Steves told us in one of his travel videos, gates around here have to be left unlocked for walkers to pass through.  We saw the famous water wheel and also the "kissing gate" that is inscribed in honor of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

We had two enjoyable days here just mostly looking around.

We drove back to Oxford to return the car and to spend a few days exploring this historic setting.  Our B&B was the most modern yet, with a real king-sized bed and actual room to walk around it.  We were on a main road, which was handy for taking the bus to any destination we wanted to visit.

We took a walking tour of Oxford University on our first full day and were overwhelmed with information.  A highlight was a visit to the Bodleian Library, where treasures on view included one of the original copies of the Magna Carta (damaged by mice in storage),

some of Shakespeare's original writing,

and a page from the original score of Handel's Messiah.

Being able to see these items was amazing.  We also attended a lecture addressing food trends in Victorian times; so fun to attend an actual lecture at Oxford!

The buildings have incredible history; so much was thrown at us that we couldn't much remember what was what!

We walked along the Thames for a bit after another short bus ride.  We could imagine punting along in the river, and witnessing crew races here.

Our next day was taken up with a visit to Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  Blenheim is the residence of the Duke of Marlborough and is the only non-royal country house in England to hold the title of palace.  It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Shortly after we arrived at the palace, the power went out, due to an outage in the nearby town of Woodstock.  It didn't affect our visit too much, except for closing an area of the residence that had interactive exhibits and closing down some cash registers in the cafe.  We joined an interesting walking tour of the inside of the building and learned that, although Churchill was born here, he never actually lived here, among other things.  It is a huge and magnificent building on extensive grounds.

The next day found us back at the train station (look at all the bikes commuters leave here!) on our way to our final stop in London.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Great Adventure 2017 Part Ten

Our last day in Keswick was also cold and rainy, but we wanted to see an ancient stone circle ala Stonehenge called Castlerigg.  It wasn't far from town, so we got directions and headed out.  Of course it's in the middle of nowhere, unmarked, down a little mud road but we eventually arrived.  The information said that Castlerigg Stone Circle was built around 4500 years ago in the Neolithic period.  As with Stonehenge, no one really knows the reason it was put here. Castlerigg is about 97.5 feet in diameter and formerly consisted of 42 stones, 38 of which remain.  The stones vary in height from 3.5 feet to 7.5 feet.

The site is very picturesque and there are views for miles across the plains.  This also means that the wind whips through, as it was on the day we visited.  We took a quick walk around, a couple of photos, and ran back to the car.

We had the rest of the day, so visited the Derwent Pencil Museum, home of the world's first pencil.  This was an interesting little place and we learned some about graphite mining and pencil making.  The tickets to get in are pencils.

The most interesting story to me was one about secret map pencils used in World War II to get messages behind enemy lines.   Special pencils were hollowed out and tiny maps and compasses were inserted and then bomber pilots could get them to POW camps to facilitate escape.  It was fascinating.

From Keswick we headed to York.  We drove the car to Carlisle, which is a little town not too far from Lanercost, which is where we started the English portion of our trip.  This ended the circuitous route we had been on for the last week or so.  We got on the train in Carlisle and headed across some new territory to York.  Neither one of us could remember exactly why we decided to go to York, but once we were there we loved it.

The history lesson:  York is an historic walled city at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire, England.  York was founded by the Romans in 71 AD. In the Middle Ages, it grew as a major wool trading center and became the capital of the northern ecclesiastical province of The Church of England, a role it has retained.  The York Minster is the most prominent historic attraction. It is the cathedral of York and one of the largest of its kind in northern Europe.  The Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second highest office of the Church of England.  It's big, beautiful and very important in the church scheme of things.

We arrived on the train and walked to our guesthouse, which wasn't too far.  There are four gates that permit entry through the walls and one of them was between the train station and our destination.  We got our first glimpse of the river on our walk.

We took a walk on the wall to see some of the sights and then came down near the art museum and spent an hour or so in there.  They had an exhibit of Picasso's pottery which was interesting.

The other highlights were a visit to the National Railway Museum and the Minster.  The Railway Museum was really interesting.  It's large and has actual rail cars in there from antique ones to more modern.  Some private carriages are there, too, and you can see how royalty traveled in their own luxury train cars.

The Minster is huge and breathtaking.  We didn't take a guided tour but listened to some of the groups and wandered around on our own.  I found it impossible to get a good picture that showed the immense size and grandeur of this building.

Constantine the Great: proclaimed Roman Emperor in York in AD 306.  The age of things here is astounding.

Then we were off again by train (a very modern one) south to Oxford to prepare to drive again for a couple of days through the Cotswolds.

The Great Adventure 2017 Part Nine

This is getting ridiculous; we've been back for two months and my journal is only half finished.  Since I'm doing this mostly so I can have a record of where we went and what we did, I'm going to complete it.  There will probably be fewer words and more photos as I go along, but at least it will be done.  As always, click on the photo to make it larger.

I left us at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham.  We still had a car for this portion of the journey so we left there and headed for the lake district and Keswick (pronounced Kezick).  This was a day of rainbows, as we left Barnard Castle in a light rain shower.

The roads weren't too busy, which was always a plus for us since when we drove we were both on high alert all the time.  No knitting in the car for me!

Our first stop was at High Force waterfall, a place Pat had researched at home and we had decided to see.  On its descent to the North Sea, the River Tees encounters a large outcrop of volcanic rock which runs across northern England from east to west.  Much of Hadrian's Wall was built along the top of this natural rock formation.  As the river traverses this rock formation (called Whin Sill), it drops by about 22 meters (71 feet) as one of England's most spectacular waterfalls, High Force.  On a cold, windy, and rainy day it was indeed breathtaking.

At this time of year and in the rain, there aren't really any people around.  You park in a lot and walk down a forested trail to the magnificent waterfall.  I liked the signs warning to stay out of the water.  I can't imagine any circumstance that would make swimming or wading here seem like a good idea!

Another couple happened by so we exchanged phones and photos, and headed back up the path to the car.  The rest of the drive was dark and windy but luckily there still wasn't much traffic to bother us.

Keswick turned out to be a pleasant little town on the shores of Derwentwater, a fairly large, mostly unpopulated lake.  The photos we saw before the trip showed us beautiful weather and lovely lake and mountain views, but we pretty much got cold and rainy.  The town was nice, the people were very nice, but it was crowded with lots of cars and traffic and dogs! everywhere.  Even in the fall when we thought tourist season would be winding down, the streets were full.  We found out that it was voted one of the most dog friendly towns in England, and people would walk the streets with multiple dogs and they were also welcome at most restaurants.  This was a problem for us, since Pat (post transplant) isn't supposed to be around animals.  Also, when it's raining, your dinner tends to smell like wet dog when there are several at neighboring tables.

Be that as it may, we came to this area for a hike and we got to do that.  Cat Bells is a fell (a high and barren landscape feature such as a mountain range) in the Lake District of England.  It rises to a height of 1480 feet and is a popular hike.  Pat had also researched this and picked it out as something we should try.  We asked our host at the B&B and he told us how to walk to the lake and which boat to catch.  You have to ride in an old wooden boat to get across to the beginning of the hike (or you can drive but the boat is a lot more scenic and fun.)

We intended to get on the boat that goes counterclockwise around the lake so as to get to the hiking point at the first stop.  Of course, we got lost walking to the dock and missed that one.  Our plan B was to go on the other boat and get off where we would have ended the hike and do it backwards.  I vetoed that plan because I figured we'd get lost again.  So we rode the boat almost all the way around the lake (takes only 20-30 minutes) and got off.  It was a good thing, since after the first little while, the trail wasn't marked and we just followed the other people up the hill.  It was muddy and cool and we had pretty good rain pants but not waterproof shoes.  Yes, I had lots of layers stuffed under my raincoat trying to stay warm.  Not the most flattering look!  The hand knit hats and mittens were handy.

When we approached the summit, the wind picked up and the rain started and it really was miserable.  We still didn't know where to find the trail back down and the other people around us didn't, either.  We made the decision to go back the way we came and I'm glad we did.  It was a fun hike with beautiful views.

We went back down and caught the boat for the last bit of the lake traverse.  We stopped for fish and chips (and more dogs) and called it a day.

That night we walked back to the lake to attend a play at the community theatre, Theatre by the Lake.  We saw a very good play entitled "Handbagged" and was subtitled "When Maggie Met the Queen."  It detailed the meetings between Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth over the years and acquainted us with some British (and world) history that we hadn't known or thought about for years. Each woman's ubiquitous handbag carried at the elbow was the inspiration for the title.